To begin with, there are two observations to be made. First, the reader should be warned that this review of Gabriel Piterberg’s The Returns of Zionism, a work by a convinced anti-Zionist, has been written by a Zionist who is no less sure of himself.footnote1 I have done my best to read Piterberg’s book with objectivity and an open mind, but if this review had been written by one of the anti-Zionist writers quoted at length by Piterberg, it would clearly have been very different. Secondly, I should make clear that whatever reservations and criticisms I may have, Piterberg’s book is one of the most interesting works on Zionism by a militant anti-Zionist that I have read for a long time.
The aim of The Returns of Zionism is clear, and Piterberg does not hide it: the total de-legitimization of the Jewish nation-state founded in Palestine. A quarter of a century ago, this idea had a certain novelty; it aroused curiosity, especially as Zionist historiography was characterized by conformism, not to say an antiquated and dusty quality; but since then the anti-Zionists have established their own conformism and become stuck in its mire. At the same time, Israeli historiography has liberated itself from many of its traditional weaknesses, very comparable to those of the French or German historiographies of the 19th and 20th centuries. Moreover, the extreme politicization of anti-Zionist discourse and its considerable exposure in the media have not benefited research. One could say that, like post-modernism, anti-Zionism has aged badly. But if works whose aim is the de-legitimization of the Jewish national movement and the State of Israel are legion, Piterberg’s is distinguished by its high intellectual standard and the general culture of the author. This does not mean that he succeeds in avoiding the usual faults of the genre; but if he does not discover America, his book has sufficient merit to deserve an in-depth critical reading.
With great honesty, the author announces his intentions from the start, and the first sentence of the work gives the flavour of the whole:
This book is the product of a realization. I grew up in an affluent part of Israel which is strewn with labour Zionist cooperative settlements. The region is called Emeq Hefer. What I came to realize was that underneath Emeq Hefer lay—erased and buried—Wadi Hawarith; and that my joyful and privileged childhood and young adulthood in Emeq Hefer were inextricably intertwined with the destruction of Wadi Hawarith and the removal of its previous inhabitants.
This way of proceeding is not unusual among Israelis, both those who live in the country and those who have decided to leave. There are innumerable young and not-so-young Israelis who have found at a certain point in their lives that the Jewish national rebirth has demanded an exorbitant price from the Arabs. A small number have taken the path adopted by Piterberg: for them, the injustice towards the Palestinians, who have been partly expelled from their country, can never be expiated, except perhaps if the Jews of Israel accepted the extinction of Zionism, gave back the lands confiscated after the War of Independence, reconstructed the 350–400 Arab villages destroyed in the war and agreed to become a minority in an Arab-Palestinian state. According to Piterberg, they are cosmopolitan humanists, worthy descendants of Hannah Arendt, whereas all the Zionists, whether left-wing or right-wing, by definition belong to the colonialist camp. True to his ideas, Piterberg has waged an all-out intellectual war against Zionism, and battles are fought on every page of the work under review.